Firefighters upset about getting silent treatment at UG fire study meeting

by Mary Rupert

Firefighters turned out in large numbers for a Unified Government Commission special session Thursday that took aim at trading shifts and other items.

They did not get to speak at the meeting, and that has ruffled some feathers.

Bob Wing, business manager for the International Association of Firefighters, Local 64, said today that a commissioner had requested that they be allowed to speak, and they were expecting to have that opportunity, but then they were told that they couldn’t speak.

“I rearranged my schedule to this (out-of-town) conference to attend that meeting last night,” Wing said. “A lot of taxpayers were there who didn’t get their say last night.”

Wing said he views the fire study as a budget-cutting document, aimed at cutting 5 percent of the costs from the Fire Department.

Fire study consultants presented a plan to the commissioners at the 5 p.m. special session Thursday that addressed several issues, including firefighters trading shifts.

Mayor Mark Holland told the commission that the trends in public safety spending in Kansas City, Kan., were unsustainable. Public safety takes up 60 percent of the UG’s budget, he said. Spending trends were averaging about 40 percent in public safety, he added.

“These aren’t issues that you take lightly,” Mayor Holland said. He said he was trying to be fiscally responsible while maintaining the safety of employees and the community. He said the fire study is not about individuals, but about systems.

Fire station locations

The fire study stated that fire stations were not always in the correct location, he said, that some of them were located before automobiles were prevalent, and some of them were inherited township fire stations.

The study recommends more fire stations for the increasing population in the Piper area, and less stations for the eastern side of Kansas City, Kan. For example, a station in the Fairfax area would close, and the consultants have stated there should be enough coverage nearby for it.

The fire study recommends five stations would consolidate on the east side of Kansas City, Kan., and two new stations would be built on the west side. The population growth is on the west side.

Mayor Holland also said Kansas City, Kan., had significantly more Fire Department employees than did similar sized cities in Olathe, Kan., and Independence, Mo., and KCK was spending more money per resident than those two cities.

Wing said the firefighters have put a plan on the table that would take care of all of the needs in the community, including more fire stations in Piper, and leaving coverage in the eastern part of the city the way it is. The firefighters’ proposal would add no additional fire companies, he added.

“Their objective was to cut the budget,” he said about the consultants’ study, “not for a service document. Our was for service.”

Wing added the firefighters’ proposal adds service in the Piper area and leaves it the same on the eastern part of Kansas City, Kan., with the same cost, not an additional cost. The consultants’ plan would cut costs, he added.

Trading shifts

Trading shifts is common, Mayor Holland said. However, a legislative audit found that about a third of the trades last year were not traded back, he said. The audit found $250,000 paid in overtime to firefighters who did not do that work, he said. Some other cities require employees to trade back when they exchange shifts, he added. He also said the payouts at the end of the year were unfair and unsustainable.

He also said retirement payouts were affected by this practice, and represented a significant burden the UG bears, with a million dollars paid to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement fund in penalties. In 2015, about 96 UG employees retired, with the UG paying $3.7 million to retire 26 firefighters; and the UG paying $3.4 million to retire the remaining 70 UG employees.

At the meeting, Commissioner Ann Murguia pointed out that firefighters work more hours per week than most workers. According to the mayor, they average around 53.5 hours a week as compared to the regular 40-hour week. They work weekends and holidays. Commissioner Murguia said trading shifts allows them to participate more in family activities.

Also she said that the types of fire calls Olathe and Independence have versus the Kansas City, Kan., population are different. Consultants said more than a dozen cities were compared to Kansas City, Kan., for this study.

Commissioner Murguia also said she would like to hear from Local 64 representatives and fire personnel at the meeting.

Fire Chief John P. Jones said at the meeting that he considers trading time to be budget-neutral, and there wasn’t really a correlation between trading time and end-of-the-year payouts. Trading time allows for flexibility, with the Fire Department’s 365-day, 24-hour schedule, he said.

Chief Jones said there was a direct correlation between overtime and carrying vacancies in the department.

Wing said today he considered shift-changing as a nonissue. The firefighters here have a longstanding agreement that he estimated at seven decades old on the topic. Wing believes it is a cost-neutral issue.

“Trading time allows for different things to happen for firefighters in their family lives,” Wing said. Firefighters are not complaining about the longer work week, and he said that laws and contracts across the country also have recognized that people have their own lives to live. Trading shifts gives flexibility to allow employees to do other things they need to do in their lives, he said.

Cutting Fire Department costs

Wing said that new sales tax money is expected to come into the Unified Government in 2017 from the Village West area. He said there are sales taxes targeted for public safety, fire and EMS that they don’t have right now.

“Why cut the Fire Department when you are actually going to get more dollars next year out of sales tax money?” Wing asked. Residents already voted for a sales tax several years ago that would specifically go to public safety, he added.

Wing said it may be the mayor’s political opinion that the community can’t sustain the level of spending, but the community has already voted at the polls that they want spending to go to public safety services. They also have responded with a high degree of satisfaction in the Fire Department in a recent community survey, Wing said.

“What operates today was good enough for Mayor Reardon, what operates today was put in place by Mayor Marinovich, but today it’s not good enough for Mayor Holland,” Wing remarked.

Mayor Holland, however, called for the UG Commission to implement the fire study “to right-size our department – without layoffs – and bring it in line with peer cities. We can do this through attrition,” he stated. “The UG also needs to require firefighters to work their shifts back, rather than pay for them. Money saved by this move could be invested in capital improvements recommended by FACETS (the name of the fire study).”

More topics on the issue of the fire study and future plans for the Fire Department were discussed at the April 28 special session of the UG Commission. To view a video of that meeting, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHi9MVIBMlI.

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13 comments

  1. Dave says:

    It does not cost the city a dime for the firefighters to trade shifts. The city pays for a firefighter to be in that position and that is what they get. To say it cost the city thousands of dollars is a flat out lie.

  2. Dave says:

    Last year the media exploited the fact that a fire truck had to be moved temporarly to another station while the flood damage was repaired at that station, response would increase, people would suffer. Now this Mayor wants to close stations down and nothing, crickets. Where is the outcry, where is the media interviewing families with sick children who would suffer? I don’t get it.

  3. Mike says:

    Dave, Are you saying that by trading shifts and saving paid time off to “sell back” at retirement (or annually if that is allowed), it’s not costing the taxpayers anything? Just curious….

  4. Scott says:

    Trading time and so called “saving time off” have nothing to do with each other. Trading time is a win win for both the employees and the FD (city). With out the trading of time or shifts there would surely be MORE OVERTIME issues for the Mayor to complain about.

  5. Dotte says:

    Trading time allows one to take time off from their job without using any accumulated paid time (i.e. vacation/sick/personal/comp time). The more one accumulates in their “bank” the more they sell back at retirement thereby boosting their pensions. It sounds like maybe they need to tighten the reins on the “sell back” issue and maybe trading time would police itself. On a different note, I am not sure why overtime is even an issue. I used to see a firefighter, in uniform-with a department SUV parked in his drive working on his property all the time at 122nd and Leavenworth Road. Heck he put up a barn, mowed his lawn several times, put in a fence….. When you think about it you really see a lot of taxpayer money wasted by our UG with police officers taking home vehicles (driving their spouses and children around in them, I am sure that they are not going to respond to a crime with the kids in the car). But I guess that is a whole other subject….

  6. Ajax says:

    Ok. Let’s try to see the whole picture here. Trading time does not cost one cent to anyone. Trading time allows one firefighter to not miss a planned activity like watching the kids, taking care of retired parents or school functions with family. Overtime is unpredictable and when it comes firefighters either take the shift or they don’t. Since money is always an issue, many take the overtime knowing they will miss out on a family event. By trading time the firefighter’s loved ones can spend their time together and not miss out of their children’s events or medical appointments from their family. Again, the person who is trading their personal time to help out a fellow firefighter is not getting paid by the UG. I am not sure where the 1.25 million dollar figure is coming from because the person who took the overtime is the only one getting paid for the overtime shift, not the person who is working for them. This 1.25 million dollar figure is simply a fictitious number to make the fire department look bad. Figures, like the trading time amount, do not exist in the real world. The reason the shifts do not always get traded back is due to the fact that person who is working for someone saves it for when they cannot work an overtime shift or any time they need off. Look at it as a trading time saving bank.
    The pension system many years ago was passed at the state level and any employee working in the state of Kansas under KPERS has the same pension. These figures come from the mayor, only looking at the final salary the year a firefighter retires. This will always be a large number. This is not what the firefighter is retiring on it is only what the firefighter’s final paycheck is from a system the State of Kansas passed. I do not know any firefighter who retired with 175% of their final salary and the figure is closer to 110-120%. The “buy out” rules changed in 1994. The generation of firefighter who were hired before 1994 are following the old buy out rules. Again, this was passed at the state level. My third issue, if the mayor is going to compare fire departments to fire departments then let’s logically use the right numbers. KCKFD is a county fire department. They may not cover Bonner Springs or Edwardsville but they cover the entire county of Wyandotte. So the only fire departments the mayor should compare KCKFD to is another county. That means the entire county of Johnson County, with all the different departments, would need to collected and compared to Wyandotte County. Independence Fire Department would have to include Jackson County and add KCMO and whoever else in those numbers. If KCK does have a city limits then only those stations within the city limits should be compared to another city.
    Finally, when it comes to personnel the mayor needs to compare the fire suppression personnel only and not the entire department. Currently, there are 426 members on the department, if you subtract the 87 personnel who fulfill the EMS operations you end up with 339 firefighters then divide this number by three and you have 113 per shift. The minimum number allowed per shift is 77. This goes against the NFPA 1710 standards which states each fire apparatus will have four firefighters on each apparatus, which every other fire department beside KCK follows.
    So, if the Mayor wants to compare fact and figures then maybe he should compare the correct data.

  7. Carlos Hunter says:

    Ajax, Excellent information. But we should remember, never let factual information get in the way of the old political dinosaurs or the clout it welds to keep the sheeple in the dark. The fictional spin put on so many things has fooled the masses for far too long.

  8. Dotte says:

    “Again, the person who is trading their personal time to help out a fellow firefighter is not getting paid by the UG.” So if I understand this correctly, trading time does NOT allow ANYONE to save or “bank” personal time/vacation time/sick time/comp time to be sold back in later to the UG? If that is the case why would one not just use their paid time off?

  9. Ajax says:

    Dotte, the vacation time that the firefighters have unlike many other businesses is not PTO. A firefighter picks their vacations in Nov/Dec before the following year. (Nov 2015 picks vacations schedule for 2016). Thus, a firefighter must preplan the entire year ahead of time. As to your question, trading time does not allow anyone to save or bank time. Trading time is simply a regular scheduled day that someone else is working for you.

  10. Ajax says:

    Dotte, I forgot this part. A firefighter only has a certain amount of days for PTO. That again is scheduled the previous year. If I wanted to be off the first week in June and I did not pick that week off in Nov 2015, then I only have a few options if I want to be off the first week in June. Call in sick, see if I can reschedule one or two days, as long as the shift staffing allowed this, or have someone trade time with so I can be off.

  11. Ajax says:

    Hunter, so if I am understanding you correctly. Politics does not care about facts and a politician will lie to the public to get what he/she wants and only offers in return empty promises? If this is the case, then I have a better understanding why the majority of the public doesn’t trust a government or a politican. The old dinosaur needs to understand that people respond better to being honest and factual then being lied. This is why I will never be a politician. I could never kiss a baby and steal their lollipop at the same time.

  12. Nathan says:

    Go ahead and take away the trade time privilege. Im sure that you will see a rise in overtime expenses as there will be people calling in sick more. Then it will be a UG issue.

  13. Wanda Wanda@kckorchestra.org URL says:

    I really baffled by the refusal of the City of Kansas City Kansas to revisit the trading practices of the KCKFD and the misuse of equipment. If a Firefighter pays someone to work 24 of his shifts and does not in return work 24 shifts for the other individual it may be budget neutral in the form of salary, but NOT benefits. They still get their full health insurance, dental insurance, and retirement benefits for working less. They have a rich PTO allowance already and to have the ability to add 2.5 months more off per year is NOT fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of the community. Yes, firefighters do gave dangerous situations at times, but many of the stations have few calls per shift so it is not like they are in constant danger. I also get upset when I see the fire trucks roll down the street 5 times per shift to go to the grocery store, or see captains going out of their areas in company vehicles to their homes, Christmas shopping, etc. I like most taxpayers are required to show up for work and remain on site to perform my job. I can understand maybe one trip to the store if they have to, but 4-5 is wasteful. The City’s refusal to re-evaluate old costly policies is no more than a political tactic. All other companies are working to reduce fiscal waste, why does the city not do the same?????

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